Well, our 24th Bruce concert is history.
Wonderful show, but what did you expect I was gonna say. I'll try to be more verbose (yeah, that's a real problem for me).
The concert plays better than the setlist. That is, on paper, there looks to be too many dead spots and a too-narrow selection of older tunes, but when you're there, it all makes sense and works very well. As Doug, one of two Bruce Virgins in our party, put it, Bruce knows how to make a show ... not sure why anyone doubts that at this point.
We rented a van (see pix below) and drove down to San Jose: Robin and I, Neal and Sonia (another Bruce Virgin), Jillian and Doug. We stopped at the This Train party at the pizza parlor, but we were kinda late and all the people with General Admission tix had already left to get their spots, so I only had a chance to talk to a couple of folks. Then the walk to the arena, where we met up with our seatmates Geoff and Nikki, and waved across the arena at Chris and Karen, while Neal/Sonia/Jillian/Doug took their seats in the upper deck just above us.
The show didn't depart from the standard setlist in any particularly unusual way ... "Thunder Road" was moved back to the encores without dumping anything, making room for the return of "American Skin," so we got an extra song, but that was about it. First, here's an ongoing narrative kind of review thingie:
"The Rising" was an appropriate opener, and Bruce's guitar work on "Prove It All Night" was if anything even more demented than in the past ... I admit I'm surprised that it still holds that much power after all these years. Bruce mostly got the quiet he asked for during "Empty Sky" (beautiful Bruce-and-Patti arrangement) and "You're Missing." "Waitin' on a Sunny Day" is still a very minor song, but my goodness, it certainly does the job in concert, and I like to think San Jose did good singing our part. The Steve-and-Bruce guitar zonkout at the end of "Worlds Apart" was wonderfully loud and psychedelic; not sure how it relates to the song, but it was great anyway. Whatever my misgivings about "Mary's Place," it worked just fine in concert ... I never once thought "gee, I wish this was 'Thundercrack'," everyone got into the "TURN IT UP" mood. For the encores, Bruce came out like an in-his-prime Joe Strummer ... his punkrock energy was pretty astonishing for an old guy like Bruce :-). He finally stole "Dancing in the Dark" back from Courtney Cox (good riddance, Courtney). "Ramrod" may be Karen's least-favorite Bruce song of all time, and having seen him play it nine times and counting myself, I'm a wee bit tired of it, too, but damned if this wasn't one of the best versions ever, complete with goofy mugging and a zillion false endings that probably pissed Karen off but which worked very well at keeping the crowd on our toes, waiting for the immortal ONETWO that kicks off the BruceNation Anthem, "Born to Run." Speaking of retaking a song from less-fortunate roots, Bruce seems to think all those bluesy acoustic versions of "Born in the U.S.A." erased all the stupid jingoism that accompanied it in the past, and so here it reappears in full-band mode, angrier than ever and much welcomed, although as Robin said at the time, all that anger would have made it a terrible set closer. He wasn't done, of course: "Land of Hope and Dreams" came along to remind us that dreams will not be thwarted, that faith will be rewarded, and THEN he was done.
The sound was much improved over the reunion tour. Soozie Tyrell is a great idea; her violin parts were evocative, and the added female vocal gave that aspect of the music welcome added power. Somewhere recently I read a review that explained something in a way I hadn't thought of before, that even though every singer on stage has their own microphone, they still are always moving across the stage to share a mic with someone else, just because they want to be there together. That's a beautiful read, and pretty accurate, I'd say: these folks like their jobs. Clarence seems to have gotten back to a more respectable level with his sax playing. But, more than the reunion tour, this show was about Bruce. He's in fine voice, his guitar playing was often ferocious, and while it's fine to reminisce about the stories he told back in the day or the revivalist fervor he brought to the reunion tour, his relative solemnity was proper for this show. Having said that, the crowd was happy to explode during that first encore set of Dancin/Ramrod/Born to Run; it reminded me of the Joad tour when we caught it early on, where "Does This Bus Stop at 42nd Street?" was a magnificent release after the mostly-downbeat main set.
There's no sense in trying to rank this show amongst all the other times we've seen him ... that's something that is best left for the future, because memories are a huge part of how we see these shows in retrospect, and we haven't had enough time yet to make memories. Suffice to say my opinion of Bruce hasn't changed after this show. It was great to welcome Sonia and Doug into Bruce World; they both seemed to like the show a lot. Neal doesn't go online much, but just in case, Neal, here's the list of songs your dad can remember crying to: "Waitin' on a Sunny Day," "Badlands," "Mary's Place," "Into the Fire," "Born to Run," and "Land of Hope and Dreams."
For the setlist junkies: It was the first time we saw him do "Dancing in the Dark" since 1988, and the first full-band version we'd seen of "Born in the U.S.A." since 1992. "Born to Run" remains the song we've seen him sing the most over 24 shows; he didn't sing it at either Bridge benefit, either Joad show, or when we saw him with Gary U.S Bonds, but that still means we've seen Bruce sing it 19 times over the years, just nudging out "Thunder Road" at 18. Obviously, this was the first time we'd heard the Rising songs; it was also our first time hearing "American Skin." (A list of songs we've heard only one time would be pretty funny and bring back some memories for Robin and I ... it would include such classics as "Haunted House," "I Don't Want Anymore of This Army Life," "On Top of Old Smokey," "Outer Limits," and sadly, much of Tunnel of Love.)
To have a house party, you've gotta have a band, and Bruce has the best house band in all the land. Following along with that sentiment, to have a Bruce party, you've gotta have a band of fellow travelers, so imagine you're hearing the Mighty Max and the rest of the E Street Band vamping to "Mary's Place" in the background while I introduce our band:
Sara, the patron saint of I Need Help Now, who came to the rescue when we needed help picking up the van even though she wasn't going to the show.
AAA, the patron saint of I Left My Lights On, for helping us jumpstart that van after the show.
Chris, the minister of New Country, who if you looked at her record collection you'd never guess she's now seen Bruce several times, who made the decision to buy a coupla tix, thereby allowing for the appearance of:
Karen, the minister of all that is not Ramrod, who only saw Bruce one other time, during the Amnesty tour, which I suspect Karen thinks of as "that Tracy Chapman concert where some dude named Bruce showed up," and who loves The Rising more than anyone I know.
Geoff, the minister of beer, who back in '80 didn't go see Bruce in Portland but who's made up for it since, and who made his nephew Neal proud by leaving his seat several times for booty-shaking with:
Nikki, the minister of whatever that thing was she was drinking, who inspires Geoff in his booty-shaking and does a pretty mean shake herself.
Neal, the minister of recruitment, who was dragged to his first Bruce show when he was 12 years old, and who this time around recruited a Bruce Virgin to her first show:
Sonia, Bruce Virgin Princess, and the biggest Silvio Dante fan around.
Jillian, the vice-minister of recruitment, who was dragged to HER first Bruce show just three years ago, and who this time around recruited a Bruce Virgin to his first show:
Doug, Bruce Virgin Prince, who if he was in the E Street Band would be Danny Federici, laying down the beautiful organ and accordian and just simply being there.
Robin, my own first lady of love. Someday, girl, I don't know when, we're gonna get to that place where we really wanna go, and we'll walk in the sun, but 'til then, tramps like us, baby we were born to run.
Blog readers, I've been harping about Bruce for almost a month in these pages. And now I'm done. Honest. Of course, Sleater-Kinney is next month, so I can bore you again later. But for now, just remember:
It ain't no sin to be glad you're alive.